“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
― Sheryl Sandberg

BABE #302: ILANA GRIFFO - Graphic Designer/Illustrator

BABE #302: ILANA GRIFFO - Graphic Designer/Illustrator

Ilana is a NY-based graphic designer, illustrator and author responsible for bringing her clients’ ideas to life. Specializing in lettering, illustrations and design, she recently published her first book, Mind Your Business, which provides tips and tricks for crushing the entrepreneurial journey. In between all the creative magic, Ilana somehow finds time to teach online courses at Rochester Institute of Technology and host workshops throughout upstate New York — and she’s also a mama. This talented lady is driven, ambitious and determined to build a business and life she loves while helping others do the same.

The Basics:

Hometown: Rochester, NY 
Current city: Rochester, NY
Alma mater: Rochester Institute of Technology
Degree: BFA, Graphic Design
Very first job: Kid’ playgym at a community center
Hustle: Graphic Designer, Illustrator

The Interests:


Babe you admire and why?
Shannan Monson is incredible. She inspires women all over through her work. She shares so many tips and resources, and starts amazing conversations on her Instagram that make me say “OMG, yes!.” She helps so many people through her work, and I love being able to connect with her and follow along with her journey. I love being inspired by women both inside and outside of my field because I can learn something that applies to my work in a different way from each one of them.

How do you spend your ‘free’ time?
Mostly with my family! We love being active and being outdoors, and we travel the East Coast for my husband’s bike races, which is a ton of fun!

Favorite fictional female character? Why?
Hermoine Granger. She’s so brave and curious!

What would you eat for your very last meal?
My husband’s pizza. We built a brick oven in our backyard together and we have pizza all summer long! It’s incredible and he makes the dough and sauce from scratch. He has ruined all other pizzas for me!

The Hustle:

Tell us about your hustle.
My current workload is full of surface design for licensing. That means I’m drawing and lettering for products like greeting cards, home decor, fabric and gift items. I’m also working on a few online courses: one about lettering, one about navigating the world of licensing and a few others. I still take on a few branding projects each year, and love working on spot illustrations and lettering for editorial design. My first book came out in January, so we’ve been working on marketing and dreaming up an idea for a future book.

What does your typical workday look like?
Every day is so different, but most days are split between being a mama and work. I love getting to enjoy breakfast with my son every day, and getting him ready for nursery school. Then I tackle my inbox and get started on the tasks for the day. I save drawing for the afternoon and night where I’m relaxed and know my ducks are in a row.

Have you always had a passion for art and creating?
I was born into a creative family, surrounded by talented, strong women. My parents are both entrepreneurs and have helped me in every step of the way. My sister is an art teacher and also sells her work, so I truly grew up in a world that valued art. The first time I learned about graphic design, I knew it was for me—although the style of my work has shifted so much since then.

What have some of your most memorable projects been?
It’s hard not to fall in love with a project when you start working on it. I try to take on projects that really excite me (although when I first started, I said yes to everything). As I’ve grown, I’ve been able to say yes to clients that feel like a perfect fit, and those are the best types of projects for both people. I’d really like to do more spot lettering for books, packaging and editorial design. Book titles for covers, story names for editorial and lettering (think, flavors) for food packaging. It’s something I’m seeing a lot more of, and it’s a ton of fun.

Any advice for fellow babes thinking of taking the freelance route?
Setting yourself up for success at the beginning is so important. I don’t mean purchasing the most expensive software or spending tons of money on coaching—I mean sitting down and doing the research, learning everything you can about your industry and your craft. Then, getting organized and making a system (setting up online bookkeeping and putting away money for taxes). You have to learn about all the hats required to run your business before you can start delegating. Three of my favorite tips include: (1) Ask for what you want. You have to be your own biggest advocate. You have to tell people (confidently) about what you do and how you can help them. 2) Position yourself as an expert, and act like one. This feels scary when you’re just starting out, but it’s so important to act like a professional. 3) Under-promise and over-deliver. This one is so fun; I love being able to deliver something a bit unexpected, the cherry on top. This really sets your business apart, and makes your client feel special and taken care of.

Tell us about your book, “Mind Your Business.
I knew I wanted to write the book after a sticky client situation lit a fire under my butt. I was frustrated that more people weren’t talking about all parts of business. I saw people sharing their successes, but no one was talking about the hard work it took to get there. I wanted to give people the resources I wish I’d had when I first started. I started writing the content about three years ago, and once I had the manuscript about 75 percent, I put together a pitch and sent it to publishers and literary agents. I had experience with self-publishing and knew it wasn’t the route I wanted to take for this project. So far, the response has blown me away, and I love seeing how people are using it to crush their goals and dream big!

What motivated you to start teaching workshops and online courses?
In high school, I was a snowboard instructor (and I loved it). I also used to be an adjunct professor teaching graphic design and typography. Growing up surrounded by teachers, I learned so much, and really saw an opportunity to teach people in a different classroom. I love being able to teach people online, connect with people in person at workshops, and help them learn a new skill or introduce them to a new resource. It’s been really interesting to think about how other people learn, and how I can connect with them through my work.

How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
It sounds cliché, but every experience teaches us something—even if it teaches us about things we don’t enjoy. By saying yes to every inquiry when I first started working for myself, I was able to learn new skills—many of which I realized I didn’t enjoy, and now can delegate (hello, web design!). I learned so much about my craft in college, but have learned everything about the industry on the job. The industry is always changing, so being curious and ready to learn and grow has been so important.

What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
The graphic design industry is currently about 60 percent women. Illustration is about 70 percent women. One thing that has helped evolved design is that it’s accessible to so many more people now. Most households have a computer, or materials to draw, and online courses make learning about the craft approachable even without a college degree. I know so many powerful women who are leading design teams, and are CEOs—and I love it.

Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
My friend Jess Levitz (founder of Creative Lady Collective) is incredible. She’s a mama, runs multiple businesses and is helping connect women in our industry so we can all grow and thrive. I’m glad our paths connected and that we can bounce ideas and talk about entrepreneurship together.

Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Do it with passion, or not at all. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth pouring your everything into. When passion is in the driver’s seat, you can go to incredible places. Also, take care of your mental health, because that’s the best foundation.

Connect with Ilana:

Instagram / Website

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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